Americans choose 'patriotism-lite' for their own children

Source: Scripps Howard News Service
Date: November 25, 2002

Most Americans don't want their children to grow up to be soldiers.

Half of those asked in a national survey of 1,001 adults conducted by Scripps Howard News Service and Ohio University said "no," when asked if they would like to see their son or daughter "enter a military career."

Forty-two percent said would recommend a military career for a child and 8 percent were uncertain.

"The most privileged and educated in American society now don't regard military service as something honorable or useful. It would interrupt their career paths," said historian Allan Millett, author of "For the Common Defense" and other military histories.

The survey found that Americans appear comfortable with the nation's professional, all-volunteer 1.4 million-member military. About 79 percent favor keeping the military at its current strength or enlarging it. More than 93 percent said it is important to them to keep "the United States as the world's only remaining military superpower."

"There certainly is strong support for maintaining a strong national security posture here at home," said former Defense Secretary William Cohen after seeing the survey results. "There is such strong support because it is seen as directly related to our own survival."

But historians and military advisers complain that American support for the military is changing as the World War II generation dies. Most citizens are not interested in donning uniforms to defend the nation, or even to consider a brief stint of military service as an interesting, youthful experience.

"I call all of this patriotism-lite. We have a lot of folks who are talking the talk, who say they support the military, but who are really not walking the walk," said Northwestern University sociologist Charles Moskos, a frequent adviser to the Pentagon on military recruitment.

The poll found that young people are least likely to look upon the military as an acceptable career. Slightly more than a third would like to see their child put on a uniform, compared to nearly half of older Americans.

Men, especially non-Hispanic white men, tend to accept military service as an appropriate career path for members of their family, while women and members of racial or ethnic minorities tend to oppose it.

A military career was most popular among conservative Republicans, residents of Southern or Midwestern states and people who live in rural areas or small cities. It is least popular with self-described liberals, Democrats, well-educated people, residents of the Northeast or West Coast, and denizens of large cities.

The poll was conducted at the Scripps Survey Research Center at Ohio University. Residents of the United States were interviewed by telephone from Oct. 13-28 in a study funded by a grant from the Scripps Howard Foundation.

The poll has an overall 4 percentage point margin of error, although the margin increases when examining attitudes among smaller groups within the survey. The margin for women only, for example, is 6 percent.

Further results of the poll may be found at